Role-Playing Games and Well-Being


  • Kerttu Lehto



role-playing games, larp, literature review, arts, well-being


Do role-playing games (RPGs) affect the player’s well-being? Several studies suggest that they might have an impact, but the topic of RPGs and well-being is usually only mentioned as a side note or curiosity. A clear, coherent picture on the topic of RPGs and well-being is missing. This review article aims to provide that picture by compiling the already existing knowledge in one place. I ask the questions: What can we learn from the already existing research? How should RPGs and well-being be studied? What questions need resolving? What can be gained from studying RPGs and well-being?

RPG studies is a young academic interdisciplinary field of research, as is also the research of arts and well-being. They both are heterogeneous and related to a variety of academic traditions. They both are also dispersed, pragmatic, and until recently, scattered and lacking cohesive traditions or methodologies. Many basic ontological questions remain unsolved and the definitions of key concepts vary. They overlap in several discourses, such as the ones about (1) practices of sociodrama and replication therapy; (2) social, cultural, and digital capital; (3) leisure time research; (4) performance studies; (5) the topic of erotic role-play; (6) problematic vs. therapeutic gaming; and (7) health education. Previous research and practices focus mainly on live action role play (larp) and well-being, suggesting a positive impact. Online RPGs share their own traditions, but studies on tabletop RPGs and well-being are difficult to find. The studies are often case-studies or examine abstract topics such as human experiences.

In these studies, it becomes evident that RPGs do indeed impact well-being. However, questions such as how, why, and what features in RPGs affect well-being remain unanswered. In addition, the research has mainly been executed from the perspective of either RPGs or arts and well-being. Interdisciplinary cooperation is the key to successfully diving into the world of RPGs and well-being. Doing so would offer both fields useful practices, interesting perspectives, new opportunities for publication and academic discussion. It would not only add knowledge about RPGs and well-being but offer perspective to the unresolved ontological questions of each field. Eventually, further study on RPGs and well-being could transfer into the usage of RPGs in the fields of well-being, health, and therapy in a similar manner that arts are currently being used.




How to Cite

Lehto, K. (2021). Role-Playing Games and Well-Being. International Journal of Role-Playing, (11), 72–93.